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coordinated action plan

coordinated action plan for food safety and a plan for monitoring and measuring agencies’ activities. We continue to believe that a governmentwide plan is important for federal food safety oversight efforts. Food Safety and Other Experts Suggested That a National Strategy Is Needed to Improve the Federal Food Safety Oversight System Food safety and government performance experts identified the development and implementation of a national strategy for food safety as a first step toward improving the federal food safety oversight system. Experts identified examples of negative effects that continue to occur as a result of fragmentation in the federal food safety oversight system. These experts agreed that there is a compelling need to develop a national strategy to provide a framework for strengthening that system and addressing fragmentation and described five key elements that should be included in such a strategy. Developing a national strategy for food safety oversight could also provide a framework for addressing our March 2011 recommendation for a government-wide plan, our December 2014 matters for Congress to consider for leadership and planning, and criteria for removing federal food safety oversight from the High-Risk List. Food Safety and Government Performance Experts Cited Negative Effects of Fragmentation in the Federal Food Safety Oversight System During the 2-day meeting we hosted with the assistance of the National Academies, food safety and government performance experts cited examples of the negative effects that continue to occur as a result of fragmentation in the federal food safety oversight system. These examples further illustrate negative effects we have highlighted in our past work, including our 2015 High-Risk Update. 48 For example, experts noted that FDA and FSIS have different statutory authorities. One expert noted that the two agencies’ statutory authorities result in two fundamentally different approaches to inspections. FDA’s authority requires a risk-based approach, in which inspection rates vary depending on the level of risk associated with a food product. FSIS’s authority, in contrast, directs the agency to examine the carcasses and parts of covered animal species and all processed food products before they 48 GAO-15-290. Page 19 GAO-17-74 Food Safety

enter the food supply. 49 Because of these differences, an expert raised questions about the proper allocation of resources based on risk. Commenting on the food safety system more broadly, several experts noted that the allocation of resources is not necessarily connected to the risk of foodborne illness. For example, one expert noted that at the federal level, FSIS and FDA receive close to the same amount of funding for food safety oversight but that FSIS is responsible for the safety of 20 percent of the food supply, and FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of 80 percent of it. 50 Furthermore, because FSIS must meet continuous inspection requirements, it may be allocating too many resources to inspecting low-risk food processing facilities that produce foods that do not pose substantial threats to public health, according to another expert. 51 For example, the expert highlighted the differences in resource allocation by comparing inspection rates at facilities producing cheese and pepperoni pizzas. A production line at the facility producing cheese pizza, which is regulated by FDA, may be inspected once every 5 years. On the other hand, a production line producing pepperoni pizza, which is regulated by FSIS, is inspected daily. The expert said the risk of foodborne pathogens related to both types of pizza is low because the pizzas are cooked. While raw meat is a high-risk food, meat that is thoroughly cooked, such as pepperoni on pizza, does not pose the same level of risk because the process of cooking eliminates existing pathogens. 49 Although FSIS is required to perform continuous inspection, FSIS uses risk to inform some of its processes. For example, FSIS officials noted that FSIS adjusts its resources to apply more intense or specific activities in poorly performing establishments. However, the degree to which FSIS can make its processes risk-based is limited by its statutory mandate. 50 According to agency budget justification documents for fiscal year 2017, FDA received an estimated $998,914,000 in funding for fiscal year 2016 food activities, and FSIS received an estimated $1,216,854,000. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that FSIS is responsible for the safety of 10 to 20 percent of the food supply, and FDA is responsible for 80 to 90 percent. 51 FSIS officials noted that FSIS does not inspect all commodities the same way. Inspectors are always present on slaughter lines but may visit meat and poultry processors only once per shift. Page 20 GAO-17-74 Food Safety

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